Cleaning Poison Ivy Urushiol off Gear

10:36 p.m. on July 24, 2007 (EDT)
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About four weeks ago I developed a fairly severe poison ivy reaction for the first time in my life. Up until then I had hoped that I was one of the lucky few who are truly immune. No such luck. I’m just now getting over it.

I have religiously washed every article of clothing, boots, and so on that may have remotely touched me or poison ivy oil, but I’m only now getting ready to wash my gear that quite likely got contaminated during a backpacking trip. This includes my down sleeping bag, pack, sleeping pad, probably even our tarp tent, and whatever else I come across that might have been contaminated.

Said gear has been sitting untouched in our gear room (aka attic) up until now since I’ve been living in fear of going anywhere near it and having another outbreak. But I need my stuff, so it’s time to deal with it.

I know that washing items with water and a mild detergent should remove any oils. I considered cleaning everything outside with the hose and some environmentally-friendly soap, but that just seems like the oils could then be left on the ground. So, I’m thinking about cleaning the gear, especially my pack and sleeping bag, in the bathtub and then fully rinsing the bathtub to further remove any oils.

I was wondering if anyone else has had to deal with this on this scale and had any suggestions. Dry cleaning is supposed to work too, but it’s not an option for these items.

6:16 a.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Alicia,

I had always had a reaction to poison ivy, and never one to yellow jackets. Two incidents in the course of life and dealing with both of the above come to mind. I hope this doesn't become one of my ramblings, so here goes.

As a kid, I played in places where yellow jackets love to be - under apple trees and along river bank cliffs. I never had a problem there. One day in my grown-up days, I ran over a yellow jacket hole with my lawn mower. I got stung and never paid much attention as there was never any problem. Later that afternoon, they rushed me to the hospital.

Later in my more-grown-up days, I bought some property. It needed clearing, so every weekend, I brush hogged, weed ate (with a weed eater), mowed, and every Wednesday, waited for the poison ivy blisters. I found many products that claimed help, but really, none provided help much in prevention. The old standby, Calamine and the newer Benadryl products, were the only itchy relief.

Point of all this - all of my personal, non-scientific research into the causes, prevention, and relief mostly turned up nothing more than what is already common knowledge to most. Stay away from it if you can. Once it's contacted, it just mostly has to wear away as it 'locks' onto what it touches. If YOU come in contact, soap and water may help if you wash vigorously as soon as possible, maybe not. All of this is dependent on how allergic you are to the oils. And as with anything, you can build up a tolerance to something, as well as lose tolerance to something. Washing in machines may help equipment, but there's the wear and tear factor, plus the contamination element for other things, and certainly don't take them to a public laundromat and let others feel your itches.

And probably the most effective way to deal with this is go to the doctor and get the shots. Then it won't matter about your equipment, and over time, the oils will have just vanished from abrasion, etc.

Not much help, but I know very well the pain you feel, and the anxiety of re-exposure. It all depends on how sensitive you are to the stuff as to how one deals with and treats the exposure.

Good luck,

Blackbeard

6:48 a.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Alicia - I can't recall ever getting PI from a secondary contact source (hiking stick, backpack, article of clothing), but if you're really concerned get a bar of fels-naptha soap (it's an old fashioned wood ash lye soap) - it'll take the oils right off the articles with a bit of scrubbing (it'll also leave your hands rough and red so you may want to wear rubber gloves while scrubbing).

I have no idea what that soap may do to gore-tex or other performance fabrics, by the way, so you may want to do a big of research before diving in.

If you use a laundromat to wash your stuff, just do the next person a favor - run a load through with nothing but detergent and bleach (goodly amount) - which should rid the machine of any residual PI oils.

Best of luck

9:57 a.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Good call on that soap, Fred.

Any of the rough soaps will work, like Lava (ouch!!) too, but that is because of the abrasives and there was always the old-wives tale bleach cure on the skin. I don't know how that would work on equipment, and how the new color bleaches would work as I don't think they are chlorine based.

Good luck, and hopefully you'll not be so reactive to it next time.

Blackbeard

10:56 a.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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The real trick with PI is washing as soon as possible after you think you've made contact. Fels-naptha has an advantage over lava - it's doesn't have fine Italian pumice in it - so it doesn't perform dermal-abrasion while cleaning off the oils. Depending on where you get PI that abrasion could be an issue. A friend of mine in scouts once made the mistake of using PI for TP .....

12:34 p.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Alicia -
As you will recall, I do a lot of competitive orienteering. Poison Oak (closely related to poison ivy and poison sumac) is the scourge of orienteers in the intermediate and advanced categories, since so much time is spent off-trail. There is a lot of literature on the web on how to deal with it. And, yes, Fred, secondary contact is actually very common. The oil (urushiol) stays active for 6 to 12 months. Orienteers have learned to wash everything, including shoes, hydration packs, hats, all clothing (including underclothes that seem to pick it up from hands when changing clothes after a run through the "dark green").

I will locate and post the URLs of some of the best websites, but in the meantime you can look on the Bay Area Orienteering Club's website (http://www.baoc.org) to find some of the links.

Best cure is, of course, avoidance and prevention. But there are several things that can be done afterward. Briefly, for clothing and packs, wash then with either or both Tecnu and/or a good grease-cutting dishwashing soap (Dawn seems to work best of the major commercial brands). You can use rubber gloves to keep the oil off your hands, but since you will be washing with the solvents, you shouldn't have to worry.

There is no such thing as "truly immune." Some people (15% of the population, according to the medical literature) show a very minimal reaction, often not being noticeable unless examined very closely. But things change with age and repeated exposures. I had no reaction until into my 50s. I could do trail work in shorts and T-shirt, handling the stuff with bare hands. But after one Trail Days event, on which the rangers had us drive into the back section of a local park on muddy roads during a light drizzle, I spent the following day cleaning the mud off the bottom of my vehicle. About a week later I developed a strange rash unlike anything I had seen before. After another week, it had spread over most of my body, with lines of blisters outlining my lymph system (systemic reaction). I went to the doctor finally, and when he said immediately "Poison oak", I said no, I don't react. To which he replied, "You do now!" Ever since, I get severe reactions starting in spring each year as the leaves come out in full force, unless I take lots of precautions. The reactions diminish over the next few months through the no-leaf season (you can still get the oils from the bare branches, so learn to recognize the plants even in the no-leaf season). Then, sure enough, next spring, as the leaves appear, the reaction re-appears. Over the past few years, I have learned to minimize the reaction to the point of rarely having the rash "weep" even if I am out in the PO for a full day and can't get treatment until afterwards.

12:37 p.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Some PO links:

http://baoc.org/wiki/Maps/Park_List#Poison_Oak

http://poisonivy.aesir.com/

http://www.knoledge.org/oak/

And some PO etiquette rules

ETIQUETTE

Because Poison Oak is one of the worst afflictions mankind must suffer, there must be rules of etiquette for dealing with it.

IF YOU HAVE NEVER HAD POISON OAK:

* You may not joke about it.

* You cannot say, "Don't you know what it looks like?"

* You may not offer your advice on how to treat it.

* You must show nothing but sympathy, and if it is feigned it must seem genuine.

* Absolutely no smirking!

* You are not allowed to intimate that the person who has Poison Oak deserved it, or is afflicted due to incompetence on their part.

IF YOU ARE IMMUNE:

* All the above rules apply to you.

* You may never boast of your immunity, and especially never touch poison oak to demonstrate your immunity. I heard of a man who ate a poison oak leaf to show off. This is a justifiable motive for homicide.

* If you cannot follow the above guidelines, please kill yourself now.

IF YOU HAVE HAD POISON OAK:

* You must show sympathy, and tell anecdotes about how bad you had it.

* You may joke and laugh, as long as you make it known that you feel very deep sorrow at the affliction.

* Feel free to imply that all immune people should be exterminated off the face of the earth.

10:04 p.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Thanks everyone for all of the sympathy and advice and to Bill for the site references. After 30-some-odd years outdoors without a reaction I was in denial that I'd get one now. But as I learned from lots of anguishing time on the internet looking for a miracle cure, immunity wears off with repeated exposure and the only thing you can assume about poison ivy is that you might not have had it YET.

Mine cropped up on my legs about a week after a backpacking trip, which included quite a bit of bushwacking (this is my sob story anecdote). Most info says that the rash typically appears within hours or a day or so, but apparently it can be longer for first-timers. That general info threw me in the beginning. I was hoping it was some sort of bad bug bites on my legs based on how it first looked. My friends who are doctors quickly disillusioned me. Things rapidly spread out and became worse: blisters, relentless itching, feeling generally awful and just “off,” and sleepless nights during which I resorted to showering at 2 or 3 a.m. for temporary relief.

Ultimately my reaction spread and became systemic, although not a severe systemic case as far as those can go. It culminated in running a mountain race with swollen legs and extra itchy feet, half covered in calamine lotion. On the upside, I hoped my hideous appearance would scare off the other runners.

After four weeks I'm now just somewhat red and itchy. I think I'll be able to go on (okay sob story over).

I admit that I used to think poison ivy wasn't a big deal: it’s just itchy, deal with it, right? Hah! Now I truly do feel deep sympathy for all of you who have suffered any reaction like this. The etiquette Bill posted is right on.

Anyway, I'm going to wash my gear in the bathtub, with gloves on and several rinses, using detergent, probably Dawn, but maybe Tecnu. Or maybe a round with each. I’m still paranoid.

Then I'm going to rigorously study the pictures of poison ivy and oak and sumac in their many forms since I don't want a repeat experience, let alone a worse one.

I liked this line from one of the sites Bill linked to:
“Only through extreme paranoia can you avoid poison oak. The alternative is to never go anywhere fun.”

10:06 p.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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My only problem with that Tecnu stuff was that it seemed to work really well at first, but later, it's effectiveness appeared to dwindle. I eventually gave up on it.

It did provide the best explanation, though, of how PI affects what it touches.

Another remedy that a reporter at the newspaper where I work wrote about:

Eat poison ivy like a salad and you will develop an immunity to it. I'm not sure I would even mention this one to anyone. He said he does it and it works. He won't answer the question about whether he ever had PI before he started eating it.

Now that you know you can catch it, and how severe the outbreaks are, you should really consider, as a last resort, the shots. Just remember, your level of reaction to PI can change at any time and only you know how severe they are now. Be extremely careful of your eyes and mouth.

Blackbeard

10:17 p.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Thanks, Blackbeard. I'll definitely be monitoring any future reactions very carefully.

I have to politely say though that the reporter you know is nuts! I don't consider myself a poison ivy expert, but after reading my fair share of info on it all the medical experts agree that this is a dangerous myth. You can't make yourself immune to poison ivy this way because repeated exposure only makes you react more, which seems highly unfair. Don’t try this at home.

Perhaps your reporter is one of the lucky rare but truly immune people. Or maybe he's just setting himself up for a huge allergic reaction. Yikes!

11:25 p.m. on July 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Alicia (et al) -

Since the PO rash is an allergic reaction, the most effective treatment is anti-allergic medicines. In particular, the reaction causes the body to massively generate histamines (as do most allergic reactions). Breathing the smoke (NEVER use PO or PI sticks in your campfire) promotes swelling of the pulmonary tract just like a massive asthma attack. So the usual MD treatment is an injection of a steroidal antihistamine for massive rashes. You can reduce the reaction (aside from the cleansing ritual) by taking an antihistamine tablet routine (Benadryl or the generic diphenhydramine HCl work pretty well, which is also why they are recommended for first aid kits in case someone is allergic to bee stings and doesn't have their epi-kit).

After the rash starts to appear (better before the blistering starts, but even after it starts "weeping"), an antihistamine cream or gel helps reduce or even eliminate the weeping. I find that the diphenhydramine HCl gels work best for me - either Benadryl gel or the generic versions, or CalaGel (same folks as make TecNu). There is a more powerful cream, but it is really expensive ($30 or $40 for the same size container as the diphenhydramine HCl creams and gels sell for $5).

You can find all this on the web sites, plus this is what my doctors have recommended and seems to work for me. However, as with all physical things, your mileage may vary.

5:49 a.m. on July 26, 2007 (EDT)
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You're right about the reporter and the lack of something upstairs. To meet and talk to him would only confirm that. I felt it really irresponsible of the newspaper to have even printed the story (Whatever will sell newspapers, though). I had ask him about previous reactions but he wouldn't really say much.

Blackbeard

10:07 a.m. on July 26, 2007 (EDT)
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"Eat poison ivy like a salad and you will develop an immunity to it."

Seems to me that if your trachea swells up from an allergic reaction and restricts your air supply you might become immune to everything - most dead people don't get sick.

I've learned to treat PI with respect over the years. I once got a bad case on the bottom of my foot (right in the arch) - made for a miserable second week of what should have been a glorious two week backpacking trip.

I feel for other sufferers and agree that those with assumed immunity should not brag. Should they do so and then contract a nasty case, they are, however, fair game for a "neener neener neener" attack.

5:44 p.m. on August 15, 2007 (EDT)
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When I rip it out of my gardens (I am alergic so I use rubber gloves)I then wash my rubber gloves twice with that citrus degreaser. I do this outdoors. Then I wash the clothes with detergent twice. You probably could spray the degreaser on the clothes (I have tried it on cotton work clothes with no ill effects) I would not do that to anything down and would spot test anything of value or that has a waterproof finish. By the way even the roots can cause a reaction.

11:34 a.m. on August 20, 2007 (EDT)
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For removing poison ivy, I've had fantastic luck with Zanfel and its generic equivalents. The stuff is painfully expensive, but after a few applications I was left with a few patches of dry red (but not itchy) skin that disappeared in a week.

12:15 p.m. on August 20, 2007 (EDT)
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Mike_S,
I have found that Benadryl gel and its generic equivalents (diphenhydramine HCl) are just as effective as Zanfel at less than 10 percent of the price of Zanfel, especially if you wash off with a good degreasing dishwashing detergent or Tecnu as soon as possible after suspected exposure. And I am extremely sensitive to PO and PI (since I first started reacting at about age 50). Since I compete in advanced orienteering courses here in the SFBay Area which has huge amounts of PO in all the parks where we have events, I come in contact with PO on a frequent basis (couple times a month).

But different people react differently, so Zanfel (at some $40-50 a tube) may work better for others.

1:10 p.m. on August 20, 2007 (EDT)
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I agree, thank god for Zanfel. I didn't get much relief with Benadryl. Calamine lotion worked to relieve the itch, but is messy and didn't improve the condition. I'd read some reviews of Zanfel online and people seemed to either give it five stars or think it was a total rip-off at nearly $40 a 1 ounce tube.

I thought I'd tough it out, but about two weeks in, still suffering, I saw some at the drugstore and decided it was worth a shot. Yes, it was extremely expensive, but it was worth every single penny. I saw improvement within hours and within a day or so things were so much better and I wasn't itchy. It wasn't just wishful thinking after shelling out the bucks. Everyone else commented on how much better my legs looked. I ended up using 2 1/2 tubes.

I now have a big container of Tecnu wash on hand, which I used along with Dawn to clean my gear. I've also added some of the poison ivy removal towelettes to our first aid kits and cars.

7:31 a.m. on August 21, 2007 (EDT)
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Ed G. Bear Gryll said you can do that and still survive!!

12:27 p.m. on August 29, 2007 (EDT)
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Having been a Lineman, yeah heard the jokes.."for the county.." we were exposed on a daily basis to P'ivy as it likes to grow around utility poles and easement areas. To combat exposure we wore light gloves on the groundwork, and washed with Technu, and never handled our work clothing with barehands back at base. We also applied 'Stokogard' to exposed areas before we went into the field.

When bpking' I NEVER handle my day clothes with bare hands, this includes my boots, which pick up the most oils. I change out of my day clothes completely, turning hiking socks inside out, and leaving all clothes outside tent. I put on my night clothes, and go about my business prior to going to sleep. Rarely get the 'itch', when I get home I wash my gear with 'Sport Wash' by Sno Seal, which is a tech clothing laundry wash, in the wash machine to no ill effects.

11:30 a.m. on September 11, 2007 (EDT)
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I FEEL YOR PAIN! I grew up with the worst of reactions to Poison Ivy..........every spring,touch it or not! I cannot describe the HORROR of those episodes.Those who know, know. Those who don't, don't.I guess I "grew out of it".I now get only small, localized patches after contact. I treat these with a topical antibiotic to minimize the dermatitis (I like 'Neosporin+Pain Relief').For poor Alicia....my sympathy. For me, I can still spot a Poison Ivy leaf in deep cover from 20 paces!

10:38 a.m. on September 20, 2007 (EDT)
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North Health Care out of Rockford, IL packages 'Ivy Screen' towelletes in boxes of 5 that weigh .24 ozs each. They work well and are easy to pack along.

8:28 p.m. on September 30, 2007 (EDT)
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I'm not sure if this will help or make everyone laugh. A man from WV use to tell me if you take a teaspoon of cream of tartar and put it in with some orange juice in a glass. (The OJ is suppose to help the taste) How big of a glass, I can't remember. Of course, you drink it. I was told that poison ivy stays in your blood and that is why it is so hard to get rid of it. The theory is the cream of tartar somehow flushes the poison out of your bloodstream.

I've never have tried it. Again, you might laugh and say that is crazy! However, my thought is what do you have to loose when you are itching all over? If someone tries this and it does work, I would love to hear from them. I'm still skeptical myself, but have not caught it to try it lately.

3:34 p.m. on October 4, 2007 (EDT)
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Hi Bill
I guess I'm the man that ate poison oak to show off. Its an old Indian trick - it makes some of us immune. I actually used to eat one fresh small leaf once a week for 3 weks in the Spring, as did my friends on the dairy goat Jesus saves commune in Big Sur... Worked for me.

If you take the immunization series from the drug stores its 2 or 3 vials of tincture to be diluted in a glass of water and drunk.

Jim S

4:08 p.m. on October 5, 2007 (EDT)
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man! i thought i was immune too since i havent gotten it yet...

that orange juice/tartar sauce combo sounds very interesting..

6:26 p.m. on October 8, 2007 (EDT)
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I have been told by Doctors and have read many articles on the subject and the science seems to say that the reaction to poison ivy is not systemic(ever)and is only contracted through direct contact. I would 'NEVER'injest any part of the plant for this could result in a serious, if not life threatening, reaction in some people. I spent years suffering with a serious reaction that erupted every spring, and I would swear that I'd never touched the stuff,but who am I to contest science? I would be curious to know if anyone has ever injected the stuff looking for a cure? Poison Ivy Smoothie,anyone?

7:04 a.m. on October 9, 2007 (EDT)
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Oh, there can be indirect contact too....

As A kid, my father would rake the yard in the fall and burn the large debris pile (which included leaves, weeds and poison ivy).

I would always get a nasty reaction from poison Ivy from the smoke. Any part of my body that wasn't covered in clothing was effected.

3:22 p.m. on October 19, 2007 (EDT)
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The company I work for has a web video and story on that reporter who eats poison ivy. If anyone would like to view or read it, try the following:

http://media.cnpapers.com/poisonivy/

I think it's open to the world.

Steve

7:00 p.m. on October 23, 2007 (EDT)
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I hear ya,Ed. However, the smoke carries tiny little bits of the oil (urushiol)that sticks to you...A.K.A.,direct contact.Smoke is a deadly, and sneaky, way to take a nasty hit of Poison Ivy. Always remember!

8:09 p.m. on October 23, 2007 (EDT)
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Anyone know anything about Jewel Weed (Ironically also called Touch-Me-Not) juice being of some relief to Poison Ivy? I've heard about it many times from some of the old-timers in my area, but have never spoken to anyone who has actually gotten relief from it.

7:27 a.m. on October 24, 2007 (EDT)
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Does it reverse the reaction, or just take away the itch? I need to do more research on this matter.

Even though I spend a great deal of time outdoors, I am one of those people who has never had the displeasure of getting the P.I. rash, but I am not so foolish as to proclaim that I am "immune to the stuff". You know what happens then!

9:24 a.m. on October 25, 2007 (EDT)
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I thought of you-all when I saw this story about the Annual Poison Oak Show in the Sierra foothills :).

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/27/us/27oak.html

9:34 a.m. on October 25, 2007 (EDT)
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That's pretty funny. I would be giving that town a very wide berth.

I thought it was interesting that Tecnu was developed to remove nuclear fallout. I guess I'm prepared for more than just poison ivy and oak now with my supply.

As for jewel weed mentioned earlier, I came across a lot of anecdotal references to it as a treatment, but apparently it's never been proven to alieve itching in any way. Of course, if you're desperate and you try it and it works, who cares what the experts say.

12:15 p.m. on October 25, 2007 (EDT)
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I love that quote

Quote:

“It’s like a Visa card,” Steve Bechtold, a park interpreter, said of the pervasive species that turns the California landscape, as well as human skin, a vivid red. “It’s everywhere you want to be.”

So true in the hills within 20 miles of my house where I go for runs and hikes on an almost daily basis!

1:14 p.m. on October 25, 2007 (EDT)
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Yes, I loved that quote too! Very funny.

12:48 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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Alicia,
I'm a hunter, backpacker and all around outdoors type person. I never had problems with PI until a few years ago when I took a tumble into a ditch filled with it. Since then I feel like I breakout if I see it. My worst time is during the Summer during pre-season scouting for hunting. I know this might sound crazy, but I carry wipes in a bleach/water solution in a zip lock bag to cleanse my skin in case of contact. I let baby wipes air dry and then place them in the bag. I mix about a cup of water with just a splash of bleach(a splash is a very accurate unit of measure) and pour this solution in the bag with the wipes until they are saturated. I don't use any more solution than it take to wet the wipes. I carry these in a pocket and clean potentially affected areas as soon as possible. I rarely have much more than a few little raised areas show up if I'm exposed. I'm not sure if this happens to everyone, but the oil starts to turn my skin a brownish black color. That gives me a heads up on what areas to clean.

12:52 p.m. on November 20, 2007 (EST)
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"I ...have....a few little raised areas show up if I'm exposed.

 

if I saw you when you were exposed, I'd have one little droopy area.

That's a joke son, I say a joke

July 24, 2014
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